An Orca in Puget Sound. Fish farming has little to no negative impact on native species in the Sound, a biological opinion by NOAA states. Photo: YouTube.

Fish farming unlikely to jeopardise sea life in Puget Sound, says NOAA

A group backing fish farming in the northwest United States and British Columbia in Canada has urged regulators and policymakers to “follow the science” in making key decisions regarding marine aquaculture in Washington state’s waters.

Published Last updated

The call by the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA) follows a biological opinion from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that the farming of marine finfish in Puget Sound has little to no negative impact on native species such as Pacific salmon species and killer whales that feed on them, or on their habitat.

The analysis by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service was initiated in October 2018 to analyse the effects of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) approval of the Washington Department of Ecology’s Sediment Management Standards regarding marine finfish rearing facilities.

Cypress Island

An informal consultation on the subject had taken place in 2011 but was reinitiated following the collapse of an Atlantic salmon pen assembly at Cooke Aquaculture Pacific’s Cypress Island site in Puget Sound (PS), in August 2017, resulting in the escape of at least 100,000 salmon.

The incident prompted Washington law makers to ban marine net-pen farming of non-native fish, which to all intents and purposes meant Atlantic salmon. Cooke has since been granted to farm steelhead salmon, a native fish, instead.

Critical habitats

In its analysis, NOAA found that EPA’s approval:

• Is “not likely to jeopardise the continued existence” of Puget Sound (PS) and/or Georgia Basin (GB) species, including Chinook salmon, PS steelhead, Hood Canal summer-run chum, PS/GB yelloweye rockfish, or PS/GB bocaccio (also a type of rockfish).

• Is “not likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of the designated critical habitats for any of the listed species”.

Jim Parsons:

Safe for environment

NWAA president Jim Parsons said: “After years of meticulous research and study, the scientists at NOAA have concluded, with full scientific certainty, that net-pen aquaculture in Puget Sound is safe for the environment and safe for the endangered species that live in these waters.

“This study, along with the recent unanimous Washington Supreme Court decision upholding Cooke Aquaculture Pacific’s permit to raise native steelhead in Puget Sound, finally puts to rest one of the biggest myths of all: that fish farming has a negative impact on endangered Chinook salmon and Orcas.”

Parsons is chief executive of Jamestown Seafood, which grows oysters along the Strait of Juan de Fuca at the entrance to the Puget Sound and is operated by the Native American Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. He is also a former general manager of Cooke Aquaculture Pacific.

Washington can lead

“As aquatic farmers, we depend on a healthy ecosystem to grow a range of aquatic food products – from steelhead trout to black cod to oysters, clams, mussels, and sea vegetables - instead of importing these foods. Sustainable aquaculture not only produces the nutritious, affordable food our world needs, but it also benefits working families in our rural communities,” said Parsons in a press release.

“Given the current world situation, it’s time for Washington to lead the way in delivering fresh, locally produced, seafood to consumers throughout the Pacific Northwest and the United States. We encourage our leaders to rely on science rather than politics or claims made by certain anti-aquaculture activist groups in making key decisions about the future of aquatic farming and the Blue Economy in Washington.”